April is autism awareness month and inside the state capitol rotunda Wednesday, children, doctors and state dignitaries gathered to bring greater awareness to those living with the disorder.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann led off the event.
“Today’s an important day, not only to shine the bright light of public awareness on autism, but it is also important for us to acknowledged that we are at a stepping stone for the future [in Mississippi],” Said Hosemann.
Secretary Hosemann said that the state has made unbelievable strides, but that Mississippi has a ways to go.
Dr. James Moore is Chairman of the Mississippi Autism Board and professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and said that more experts in the field of autism are needed to address the thousands of kids and adults in Mississippi who have the disorder.
“We need diagnostic support, we need more professionals in Mississippi. It’s hard to convince those qualified folks to move, so we need more programs, like the program at the University Southern Mississippi, who are trying to produce home grown behavior analyst,” said Moore.
Moore says that the state is only averaging about 12 students a year who will graduate in the discipline of behavior analyst. And according to him, that’s nowhere near enough to work with the more than 5-to-10 thousand kids who have already been diagnosed with the disorder.
Mother Chelsea McKinley of Petal, Mississippi was last to speak at the event. She has three boys who have been diagnosed with autism and said that she struggles to find ways to help her kids navigate a society that doesn’t quite have them in mind.
“We tried everything. I know you’ve seen it, someone shares on your Facebook, the new diet, the new supplement, we tried them all. They do work in some cases but my thing was, I wasn’t looking for a cure for my children. They didn’t have something that they needed to be cured from. They needed to find a way to cope in a world that wasn’t necessarily made to cater to them,” said McKinley.
The event was sponsored by Autism Speaks.